East Asia Theater
Legislator Tien Chiu-chin of Taiwan's opposition Democratic Progressive Party has issued a call to her fellow lawmakers to act on restitution of traditional lands to the country's aboriginal peoples. Her comments came at a press conference Nov. 24 where she was joined by Pastor Kavas, a member of the Bunun people, who said he had been harassed by security forces as he attempted to guide a small group of scholars into a forested area usurped from the Bunun. Kavas said that while guiding National Taitung University professor Liu Chiung-shi and his assistants through the forest near Jiaming Lake in Taitung county, they were stopped by a dozen police officers, who arrested the academics, citing a breach of "national security." Ironically, despite having been designated a restricted area by the Ministry of National Defense in 1993, the area has become a popular tourist destination in recent years, Kavas said. He called restriction of Bunun access to the area "beyond belief."
Beijing's Third Intermediate People's Court on Nov. 27 released journalist Gao Yu on medical parole after the Higher People's Court upheld her conviction for leaking an internal Communist Party document to a foreign website. Though she did receive medical parole as a result of her health, the courts have refused to overturn her conviction which means she may still serve her sentence outside of prison. The Higher People's Court upheld the conviction on Nov. 26, also reducing her sentence from seven years to five. The trial of the seventy one year old freelance journalist prompted concerns from the international community who viewed the prosecution as part of a continued crackdown on journalism and free speech rights. Gao admitted to leaking the document at issue [concerning what was discussed at a closed meeting], though [independent news website] Mingjing News contends that it did not receive the document from her. Yu, who has been detained since 2014, received her initial sentence in April at which time she had plead not guilty.
Okinawa's Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval issued by his predecessor for a landfill to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new site at the island's Cape Henoko. Sit-in protestors in front of Camp Schwab Marine Base at Henoko rejoiced as the announcement came over a live radio broadcast. Some took over the roadway to perform the island's traditional Kachashi dance in jubilation. Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, voiced defiance of anticipated efforts by Japan's central government to override the decision: "We will not lose to the governments of Japan and the United States. With the governor, we will continue to struggle to stop construction of the new US base." In March, Gov. Onaga had issued a stop-work order on the relocation, which the central government overruled. Protesters are demanding that the US Marines leave Okinawa entirely. (Kyodo, Oct. 14; BBC News, Ryukyu Shimpo, Oct. 13)
The House of Councillors, Japan's upper house of parliament, on Sept. 19 approved a measure that allows the Self Defense Forces to deploy troops abroad for the first time since World War II. The legislation passed the lower house of the Diet in July. The law was backed by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition. The measure faced substantial opposition within Japan and protestors gathered outside the parliament the day before the vote. Opponents of the bill are upset that the law contradicts pacifist provisions in the constitution of Japan, specifically Article 9, which states: "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." Abe argues that the national military must take a more active role in order to strengthen its position against growing military power in China and a nuclear-armed North Korea. The government put limits on military deployments in the new law, but critics argue those limitations are extremely vague.
In a massive display of military might, Beijing held its official "Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War" Sept. 3. Thousands of troops and weaponry including four ballistic missiles filed past the reviewing stand overlooking Tiananmen Square, as warplanes flew in formation overhead. The most prominent foreign leader joining Xi Jinping on the reviewing stand was of course Vladimir Putin. Also in attendance was wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The spectacle came with an announcement that China will be cutting the troop-strength of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army by 300,000, but this will be concomitant with a big push in modernization of weaponry. (Sinosphere, Global Times, Thinking Taiwan) But perhaps the most unseemly thing about the affair was the politicization of history, and efforts to assure that only the official version was heard...
Chinese authorities arrested 12 individuals Aug. 27 for illegally storing dangerous materials that led to the Tianjin warehouse explosions, which killed at least 139. Those arrested include Yu Xuewei, chairman of Tianjin International Ruihai Logistics Co Ltd, and Zeng Fanqiang, an employee with a safety firm. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security alleged that the safety firm illegally allowed warehouse owner Tianjin Ruihai to pass safety evaluations and obtain hazardous materials without actually meeting the safety requirements. Eleven other officials are under investigation for alleged neglect of duty and abuse of power relating to the explosion of 700 tons of sodium cyanide and other chemicals.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared a "quasi-state of war" after convening an emergency meeting of his military leaders, with the Korean People's Army (KPA) "ready to launch surprise operations," the Nort'’s official KCNA agency reported Aug. 21. There are ominous reports that the KPA is preparing a missile strike on the South. Preparations at missile launch sites near Pyongyang were reportedly detencted by South Korean and US military monitors. The escalation comes following an exchange of artillery fire across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Aug. 20. Tensions have been rising since an Aug. 4 incident that saw two South Korean soldiers severely wounded by a mine explosion along the DMZ, with Seoul and the UN Command claiming North Korea troops intentionally placed the mine on a path known to be used by South Korean patrols. In response, South Korea has renewed anti-DPRK propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ. Media reports in the West are not emphasizing that the esclation also comes amid the joint US-South Korea "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" military exercise. The annual exercise, which runs from Aug. 17-28, involves 30,000 US troops and 50,000 South Korean. According to a statement from the Combined Forces Command (CFC) in South Korea, UFG is "a routine and defense-oriented exercise designed to enhance CFC readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula." The exercise was briefly suspended following the artillery exchange, but has now been resumed. (NK News, NK News, Business Insider, Aug. 21; Asia Times, Aug. 20)
The Education Ministry in Taipei has been blockaded by student protesters for five days now, and the ministry has opened talks with protest leaders. The protests were launched to oppose textbook revisions that would emphasize the "One China" view of history. Protesters attempted to occupy the ministry building on July 23; after being ejected they returned a week later, tore down a fence and established an encampment in the courtyard. The protest camp has been maintained since July 30. The action was partially sparked by the suicide of student activist Lin Kuanhua, who was among those arrested in the July 23 action. The protests have drawn comparison to last year's Sunflower Movement, in which the Legislative Yuan was occupied for 24 days to oppose the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement (CSSTA), decried as a "black box" deal with China that the ruling Kuomintang attempted to push through undemocratically. The new "black box" textbooks would reportedly emphasize that Taiwan is part of the "Republic of China," portrayed as the rightful government of all mainland China—even refering to the RoC's capital as Nanjing and its highest mountains as the Himalayas. Protesters are demanding that the textbook revisions be dropped and that Education Minister Wu Se-Hwa resign. (Channel NewsAsia, New Bloom, Aug. 3)